First responders are hoping that decals placed on homes and vehicles will help police, firefighters, and EMS more adequately respond to calls with individuals who have Autism.
The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office says Autism awareness is extremely important to its first responders. In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), based on 2016 data. Along those lines, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. That’s why they’re promoting a decal that is immediately recognizable in hopes of giving first responders “a few extra seconds to prepare themselves for their interactions with the autistic occupants of a vehicle or home.”
Several years ago, the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T) implemented the Governor’s Initiative Training Program, which includes specific mandatory training for every law enforcement officer in Georgia. Among the topics covered in the training program: de-escalation, Autism awareness, use of force, community policing, and cultural awareness. But the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office has sought to go one step further.
Detective Tiffany Bennett said she came up with the idea while taking the course.
“The idea struck me in 2019 while I was taking the annual Autism & De-escalation course through GPSTC (Georgia Public Safety Training Center),” she said. “I wanted to create a way for law enforcement officers to be able to easily identify individuals with autism. My idea was to create a decal that would be a visual cue so first responders would know that an autistic person either lives in a home or could be in the vehicle. The intent was to create a decal to grab attention but still be discreet in the sense that it doesn’t say “Autism”.”
With the training that law enforcement officers go through combined with the visual cue of an Autism decal, it could help a law enforcement officer be more prepared for an encounter. There are different types of decals which highlight the different triggers for each autistic person: Hyper-Sensitivity, Non-Verbal, Echolalia, and others, in hopes of providing information that will allow first responders to conduct themselves in a way that best supports the individual.
Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization that works to continuously make advancements in the autism community, has long lobbied for more education for everyone involved in encounters with autistic individuals and law enforcement. While the organization advocates for privacy of individuals, it also says, “Law enforcement officers report that they make their best decisions when they have their best information. A good, strong diagnosis disclosure that includes the use of an information card, contact information for an objective professional, and proof of diagnosis should be considered.” They also have information for law enforcement officers on their website, as does Georgia P.O.S.T.
The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office is hoping the idea will take off across public safety agencies across the state.
If you would like more information on how you can obtain decals for an agency, contact Detective Tiffany Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (770) 443-3015.